Director: Jon Turteltaub
Screenplay: Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber
Starring: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Mohamed Salah
Runtime: 113 Minutes
Based on the first of a series of novels by Steve Alten, Meg it follows the underwater adventures of a Navy deep-sea diver named Jonas Taylor and his countless run-ins with a giant species of prehistoric shark called Megalodon.
The books are exceedingly ridiculous airport reads, but for the most part, play their premise relatively straight. This adaptation courtesy of director Jon Turteltaub opts to lean harder into the absurdity of its premise by playing things looser, revelling in its sillier aspects and casting the bankable Jason Statham as the heroic lead.
If there’s any field in which Warner Bros. Pictures are excelling at recently then it’s in their recent productions of blockbuster budgeted, incredibly silly but incredibly fun monster movies – and even if not quite reaching the levels of Kong: Skull Island or Rampage earlier this year, The Meg is a very enjoyable addition to the late-summer season slate that pretty much delivers on the promise of its tongue-in-cheek marketing material; watching The Stath go head-to-head against a giant prehistoric shark.
In fact, it’s so efficiently designed to deliver so exactly on its premise that there isn’t really a great deal more to discuss of it as a fairly entertaining B-movie. Its plot is pretty lean and no-nonsense, mostly focusing on a diverse ensemble cast of likeable if broadly drawn characters who all get their own dramatic beats and moments of humanity. The shout-out message regarding the hunting of sharks for their fins is loudly expelled at one point only to try and make it about something, even though that’s not really the focus of anything going on.
This is a preposterous man vs. nature fantasy with Statham’s hero hunting down the beast Captain Ahab style as an act for revenge for killing his crewmates in a brief opening prologue, but even that doesn’t play into the story as much as you’d expect. The spectacle is found in following sequences leading to set-pieces wherein the team routinely face off against the rampaging Megalodon (who is strangely referred to casually as ‘Meg’ without much prompting from anyone).
The set-pieces themselves are really entertaining if few and far between. Turteltaub’s light sense of enthusiasm for showing off the creature and its destructive potential is clearly staged and directed, with bright cinematography and strong computer-generated effects. It’s only a pity that the film has aimed for a wider demographic with a PG-13 rating, and as such the more violent scenes of carnage are mysteriously bloodless as ‘The Meg’ chomps down on beachgoers by the mouthful.
It’s heavy debts to Jaws offer a loving Easter egg hunt of references and visual call-backs, as well as a particular Finding Nemo reference of all things that comes in an unexpectedly hilarious form. The screenplay leans as hard into levity as it can without turning into too much a farce, and maintains a decent tone throughout that knows how to get the audience to laugh with the film as opposed to at it.
The major thing of note, beyond Jason Statham’s enthusiastically charismatic performance that plays with his hardman archetype as much as his other recent roles, is the emphasis it focuses on dominating the Chinese market. Developed in cooperation with a number of eastern production companies, as well as it’s setting off the Chinese coast and a climax at the densely populated Sanya Bay, it’s another example of a western feature that feels specifically produced for audiences on the opposite side of Hollywood Land in a push for further financial gain in an increasingly profitable marketplace.
It’s something that people should get used to, as we’re going to be seeing a lot more films like this representing a more global cinema with more varied casts, and it doesn’t feel as nakedly pandering as it might sound with a cast who are utilised this well. Li Bingbing, in particular, is captivating as love interest Suyin Zhang, as is Winston Chao as her father and relative newcomer Shuya Sophia Cai as her adorable daughter Meiying.
The Meg isn’t going to rewrite any rulebooks regarding the current state of an evolving Hollywood marketplace, but by taking the right strides when approaching the material, playing this monster feature as loud, silly and broadly as it does turned out to be the best option it’s makers could have gone with. It’s a solidly enjoyable film to begin the winddown of summer 2018 on.